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Splasher 6 Newsletter

The Bombing of Billie B.

A War Story
By John Alden Clark
Splasher Six Volume 31, Fall 2000, No. 3
Cindy Goodman, Editor

It was a late November 1944 mission of the 100th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. We were flying 895, "Miss Chief", an old (B-17G) aircraft but a dependable one, in which we had put a dozen missions. Our Fortress crew had completed all the usual pre-take off procedures (and, precautions), including making any last minute necessary pit-stops before taxiing out for take-off.

Hence, during group assembly over East Anglia, while I was monitoring the group frequency on the radio, I was surprised to hear the following override on the intercom from Pete, our radio operator:

"Lieutenant?" As co-pilot, I normally handled any intercom communications between the crew and the cockpit, so I switched from group frequency to intercom:

"OK, Pete."

"Lieutenant, Wade’s in a bad way."

"What’s wrong, Pete," I said, all the time wondering if our ball turret gunner had had an accident or taken ill. Thoughts of aborting our 12th mission also ran through my head. Doubtless, Chuck, our pilot would approve of aborting if Wade was really bad off.

"Wade’s gotta go so bad he can hardly stand.!"

"Can he get to the can in the companionway?"

We had long given up on using the bomb bay relief tube, as it would invariably freeze up during the winter months, even at low altitudes. So, our solution was a rectangular, open-ended, well-secured, 15-gallon oilcan placed strategically in the companionway. At the end of each mission it was always filled almost to the brim. The task of disposing of what would be by then a large frozen block of yellow-colored ice was democratically rotated among the crew. We always joked about taking flak hits anywhere but…well, you know where.

"No, Lieutenant, Wade has to do number-two, and it’s really urgent!"

By now, the entire crew knew about Wade’s predicament.

"Not back here!" (Bruce, our tail gunner.)

"It’ll get worse as we go higher!" (Dave, the navigator, encouragingly.)

"Dump it all in the ball and sit on it!" (Unknown, but probably Rex, our armorer and second waist gunner.)

"Maybe it’ll freeze fast enough to put it on the floor in the waist." (Jim, our always helpful other waist gunner.)

"Nothing doing!" (Rex, the originator of the ball turret solution.)

Executing his command function, Chuck pointed a gloved finger at me and, without a word, his dry smile said "It’s yours!"

"All right, you guys. Let’s have some good ideas. Wade’s got a bad problem." (Me.)

"We all do now," (Robin, our flight engineer, always seeing a situation clearly.)

"Not in my office!" (Al, our bombardier.)


"OK, Pete."

"I wonder if we could use one of the cardboard boxes the chaff comes in. I could dump the chaff in the corner until I need it."

"Better use more than one box, Pete. They’re pretty thin." (Robin.)

"OK, Pete. Why don’t you try it. Let me know when you’re finished." (Me.)

Chuck nodded and tapped my shoulder, pointing to the headset. I switched back to group frequency in time to hear Fireball Leader say we would be at Angels Five, on course, 2 minutes behind briefing, in 17 minutes.

"Dave, did you get that?" (Me.)

"Roger." (Dave.)

Shortly later I switched back to intercom when I heard on the override:


"OK, Pete."

"Wade’s done. I think the box will be OK."

"Thanks, Pete. Good job. How’s Wade?"

"Wade’s OK, but what should I do with the box?"

"Can you move it without spilling it?" (Me.)

"Yes, it’s pretty firm and we put a fairly tight cover on it."

"Well, put it in some corner, out of the way. We’ll deal with it later."

"OK." (Pete)

Suddenly, in a burst of truly creative enthusiasm, Rex broke in:

"Lieutenant, why don’t we tie it to the fins of one of our bombs? I can do it with some extra arming wire I have. We’ll drop it with our entire load!"

At that the intercom came alive with excitement and declarations of joy, missed with evil intent: "Right in the Fuhrer’s face." (Bruce, tail.)

"Insult to injury." (Dave, navigator.)

"Same on same." (Al, bombardier)

Lieutenant? OK to go to the bomb bay?" (Rex and Robin.)

Chuck, who apparently was also listening, lifted his gloved hand with a raised thumb, almost hitting the landing light switches. Big smile, now.

"OK. Go ahead." (Me.)

Carrying the box as carefully as if it were a bomb, Rex squirmed into the bomb bay from the radio room to be met by Robin from the cockpit. Together, they completed their dedicated task promptly and in high spirits.

"Ok, Lieutenant, we’re done." (Rex.)

"Thanks. We’ll probably set some kind of 8th Air Force record today. Wade, are you back in your turret OK?" (Me.)

"Yes, Lieutenant. We really ought to smear ‘em today."

For the next few minutes, high humor reverberated back and forth among the crew. Never had such interest been expressed over our bomb load. They seemed anxious to get to the target.

As we turned on the I.P. and took up our course to the target, I switched briefly back to intercom:

"Wade, we probably won’t have much to worry us about fighters on the bomb run. Why don’t you turn y our turret so you can see the bombs drop out. Give us all a report."

"Roger, Lieutenant!" (Wade.)

We were flying lead in the low flight of Fireball Able of the 100th and, as was often done, there was a fourth B-17 added to our flight of three, flying slightly below and directly behind us. This was called flying in the diamond, somewhat of a tailend Charlie position, which was usually assigned to a new crew. Today, it was the B-17 flown by Billie B. and his crew.

In a few minutes, following standard procedure, Al opened the bomb bay doors, which was announced by the usual roar of the slipstream. After another short period of straight and level flying we felt the sudden upward lurch of our Fortress at the same moment Al sang out "bombs away."

Almost simultaneously, over the group frequency,, I heard an irate rebuke: "Hey, what are you guys doing?" It sounded like Billie B. "We can’t see anything down here!" Now I knew it was Billie B.

At this sublime moment of our sweet revenge for all the nasty atrocities of the enemy, at a time to once and for all settle accounts with the Aryan brutes below by dropping on them Wade’s latest full measure of devotion to the miracles of the alimentary canal, we had badly goofed. WE had overlooked those important aerodynamic relationships between weight, mass, shape, and drag that determine a ballistic trajectory. Instead of sending our personal (or, at least, Wade’s) greeting to the enemy below along with our load of 8-500lb GP bombs, Wade’s box was delivered at about 150 MPH directly into the Vee of the windshield of Billie B’s Fortress.

At this speed and with an outside temperature of about -50° F, Billie B. was indeed instantly blinded forward with an impenetrable coating that also instantly froze into an almost perfectly symmetrical curtain over the windshield.

Fortunately, or otherwise, as one may consider it, Billie B. was flying expertly closed-up almost directly under us looking up through the upper cockpit windows. Thus, he could still keep flying with the formation. (He returned to base, however, looking mostly out his side windows.)

"Wade, I think we got Billie!" (Bruce, in the tail.)

"I think so, too!" (Wade.)

"Lieutenant, what should I do?" (Wade, again.)

"Watch out for German fighters, Wade." (Me, trying to pretend nothing happened.)

"Wade, I’ll help you clean it up." (Jim, always helpful.)

Jim and Wade did exactly what they promised. Chuck apologized for the entire crew to Billie B., who said he understood. I emptied the can, all this after we landed at our base at Thorpe Abbotts.

A month later Billie B. and his crew went down at Hamburg among the 12 Fortresses of the 100th Bomb Group lost that day, December 31, 1944. Old 895, "Miss Chief," was one of them, too, but flown by another crew.